Remember the dustup that Groupon created wit their Super Bowl ads? Most people felt they were offensive while others saw the as being brilliant. In the end, Groupon decided to cave to the majority (in other words, those who pay Groupon’s bills), remove the ads and apologize for their lapse in judgment.
Andrew Mason, Groupon’s CEO, isn’t about to let the world think that the while thing was entirely their fault. In fact, he appears quite happy to paint Groupon’s ad agency, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) as the culprit while acting as if Groupon was just too trusting rather than complicit in the ads.
After defending controversial Super Bowl ads created with CP&B, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is now blaming CP&B and himself for trusting it as an ad partner.
In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek profile last week, which noted Groupon has stopped working with CP&B, Mr. Mason said he placed too much trust in the agency “to be edgy, informative and entertaining, and we turned off the part of our brain where we should have made our own decisions. We learned that you can’t rely on anyone else to control and maintain your own brand.”
Now, that sounds like “we got sold a bill of goods” talk that is looking to take the blame away from Groupon and pushing it back on the agency. In fact, Mason implies that Groupon fired the agency which appears to be at odds with a little thing people in the industry like to call the truth. CP+B’s response?
That about-face and, more bitingly, the underlying assertion that it fired CP&B, is riling some execs at the MDC Partners’ crown jewel, which by some estimates accounts for more than one-third of the holding company’s revenue. For one thing, people familiar with the situation say the agency’s contract with Groupon was only through Feb. 28, and it’s disingenuous to say CP&B was dismissed. Groupon’s TV schedule has run its course and no further ads are planned, a Groupon spokeswoman said.
Groupon wouldn’t be the first company to push blame back on their agency but let’s face it, if Groupon were paying attention to reality rather than being blinded by “Super Bowl Ad-itis” they could have stopped this from happening. To go back and act like they were just kids who took their eye off the ball to be bamboozled by the big, bad ad agency is silly.
The AdAge write up goes on to explain some more detail but the takeaway I get is something that seems to be more thematic with today’s big companies run by younger executives. Mason’s actions seem eerily similar to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s take on mistakes, which is essentially using the “Oh that’s wrong? Really? I’m so sorry” approach. Have you ever felt that Zuckerberg is truly sorry about anything he has ever done?
This kind of corporate behavior in public sheds light on what is likely going on behind the scenes. We have been played by Facebook enough to know that they know exactly what they are trying to get away with and how it often borders the line of good taste and strong ethics. If anyone is ever suckered by a Mark Zuckerberg hurt puppy dog look apology for anything moving forward then they are just not very bright.
Now Groupon CEO Mason is taking the same approach with their business and it could be a red flag. Culture is a trickle down thing in organizations. If there are questionable tactics happening at the top you can be guaranteed that the culture of the organization will reflect that. If Groupon is going to be the ‘we’re never truly at fault, it’s always the other guy’ type company just imagine how that plays out with customers who have been sold a ‘deal’ that isn’t in their best interest.
Aggressive closing sales teams aren’t born from people who have the best interest of their clients at heart. They are born from the need to get money in the door regardless of the price to another. Groupon’s culture is like that and it can make some wonder just what is going on with this multi-billion dollar juggernaut from virtually nowhere.
I bring up this possibility as a warning and nothing else. I have no basis for an accusation other than observed behavior. What I see thus far from Groupn’s c-suite isn’t the stuff of “I should trust this guy.” I think a healthy serving of caution would be advised to anyone who is thinking about ‘dealing’ with Groupon.